We care about energy because it intersects every part of society. It is relevant to all the sectors and things we need and care about. Energy affects the environment, public health, national security, poverty, education, and our way of life. It touches every part of our daily rhythm.
2: Energy Transitions
One of the central themes of energy is that energy situations change. Energy transitions, which are defined as significant shifts in the energy mix, have happened many times before, and continue happening today.
3: Energy Literacy
One of the obstacles to becoming an energy expert is that the energy sector uses specialized vocabulary. Becoming fluent in energy requires mastering the terminology and its nuances.
4: Energy Basics
The laws of thermodynamics are some of the most fundamental engineering principles. They are the rules underpinning all energy transactions; the engineer's equivalent to grammar.
5: Energy Uses
Today, the world consumes energy in many forms. Its diverse fuel mix includes petroleum, natural gas, coal, all the renewables, and nuclear.
Three original sources—the earth, the moon, and the sun—ultimately provide all the energy we consume. The earth provides nuclear fuels and geothermal resources. The moon induces tidal energy. The sun provides the rest, including the renewables such as wind, solar, hydro, and bioenergy.
12: Hydroelectric Energy
Hydroelectric power generation is the most prominent form of renewable energy. As water flows downhill, its potential energy becomes kinetic energy, which turbines can convert into electricity.
13: Wind Energy
Humans have employed wind power for thousands of years in different forms. However, modern uses of wind are almost exclusively for generating electrical power, though some iconic windmills exist to this day, pumping water on ranches for livestock.
14: Solar Energy
Solar energy represents a very small fraction of today’s energy mix, but also holds the greatest potential as an energy supply for the future. Used to generate heat and electricity, solar power is inexhaustible, clean, and free.
15: Geothermal Energy
The word “geothermal” means “heat within the earth.” Vents of steam exist naturally around the world where steam seeps or shoots out of the ground. Creative individuals have been harvesting these steam vents for years.
Prior to the industrial revolution, bioenergy was the single most important source of energy in the world. And just like the other fuels, bioenergy has its own set of advantages and drawbacks.
Nuclear fission was first discovered in 1939, and the first controlled nuclear chain reaction took place in 1942. In 1948, nuclear reactors first generated electricity at a power plant in Idaho. Such a rapid pace of innovation remains unparalleled anywhere in the world since.
Electricity is one of the most important forms of energy. Because it is clean, quiet and easy to control at its end use, electricity is the preferred form of energy among affluent nations.
At the heart of the electricity system is the collection of power plants. Most use heat or flowing air and water to spin coils or magnets, generating electricity. However, a small and growing fraction of power plants use heat or sunlight to make current directly.
20: The Grid
The grid is the world’s largest engineered machine. This incredible invention spans continents while reliably transporting electricity from power plants to consumers.
21: Electricity Pricing and Valuation
The design of electricity markets varies around the world. In regulated markets, a central governing body sets the rates for electricity and approves or disapproves capital investments in new facilities. In deregulated systems, market forces set rates and make those decisions more freely.
Transportation is one of the key hallmarks of industrialized nations: as people become more affluent, they tend to own more cars and drive more miles. Transportation is also heavily affected by policies related to vehicle safety and fuel economy.
23: Advanced Fuels and Drivetrains
Today, transportation is primarily powered by petroleum products. However, a variety of alternative fuels and drivetrains, such as natural gas, biofuels, and electricity, are emerging.
24: The Built Environment
How we design, operate, and place our buildings has a bigger impact on our energy profile than any other aspect of modern society. That means the built environment is a good place to start for implementing efficiency programs.
Energy policy is the combination of governmental actions that establish the framework for energy production, distribution, and consumption. Overall, energy policy is a complicated, multilayered quilt of policy-making bodies interacting at many levels, from local to national.
26: U.S. Energy Policy Levers
Because of heightening concerns about energy security stemming from energy trade, fears about declining reserves of traditional resources, and the environmental impacts of energy production, the priorities for U.S. energy policy are changing to more closely consider whether sources of energy are domestic, renewable, and clean.
The energy sector is a critical driver of the economy, both good and bad. Understanding the cross-cutting role of energy prices, markets, and economic policies is important for designing solutions to energy challenges.
28: Energy and the Environment
Energy enables many great things, but also carries many downsides. One of the most important downsides is how energy production, trade, and consumption impact the environment.
29: Energy and Climate Change
Climate change is one of the most important and long-lasting environmental impacts of the energy sector. Energy production and consumption are important parts of climate change, and solving that crisis is one of the most important challenges of the 21st century.
30: Energy and Water
Water and energy are interconnected. Society uses water for energy and energy for water. In many ways this relationship can be good news. However, neither water nor energy is infinite.
31: Energy and Food
Agricultural operations for growing crops and raising livestock consume energy, as does processing, packaging, transporting, refrigerating, and preparing food. Food waste can be turned into an energy source; an increasingly attractive option if energy tensions increase.
32: Energy and Humanity
Defining ‘humankind’ has perplexed scientists, philosophers, and theorists for centuries. Over the centuries, several definitions emerged — from using tools to speaking — but all proved insufficient. One emerging definition hinges on humans’ unique ability to manipulate energy.